Thomas Daniell

Sir Charles Warre Malet, Concluding a Treaty in 1790 in Durbar with the Peshwa of the Maratha Empire

1805

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Artist
Thomas Daniell 1749–1840
Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 1823 × 2785 mm
frame: 2037 × 2990 × 133 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Tate 2007
Reference
T12511

Summary

Sir Charles Warre Malet, Concluding a Treaty in 1790 in Durbar with the Peshwa of the Maratha Empire 1805 by Thomas Daniell is a large oil painting depicting a durbar (levee or reception) in the large hall of a palace in Poona, India. The subject is the formalisation of a treaty which was instigated by Malet, a servant of the British East India Company, in seeking to gain a British advantage amid power struggles between rival Indian rulers. In the painting, Malet presents a scroll to the Peshwa (leader of the Maratha Empire) Madhav Rao Narayan, ratifying a treaty against another Indian ruler, Tipu Sultan of Mysore. The sixteen-year-old Peshwa is seated in the centre of the scene, attended by his chief minister Nana Fadnavis, as he receives the blue-coated Malet, who kneels at his right and hands him the treaty scroll. At the Peshwa’s feet is a Persian sword, the property of Mahadaji Scindia, the leader of a formerly rivalrous dynasty based at Gwalior, whose present support the sword symbolises. The central figures are surrounded by members of the Peshwa’s court, seated and standing in tiered formation as they observe the scene. Many of the figures are portraits of actual members of the court. Daniell has also included ornamental and architectural details such as sculptures of the Hindu deities Ganesh (to the left of the archway in the background) and Vishnu (to the right), and a painted frieze depicting avatars of Vishnu.

From its formal foundation in 1600, the British East India Company (EIC) increasingly consolidated its power in India. The EIC was an English (later British) company formed for the purpose of trade in India and East Asia. The company held a monopoly over trade in the Indian Ocean region throughout the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, acting as an aggressive driver of British imperialism. It gradually attenuated the rival French and Dutch colonial efforts and capitalised on the weakening of the Mughal Empire, which had ruled over vast swathes of India throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries but was now in a state of progressive decline. During the eighteenth century, British EIC Officers sought to form strategic alliances in efforts to quash any resistance coming from local Indian quarters. The rise of Muslim leaders Haidar ’Ali and his son Tipu in Mysore presented a particular threat to British activities in India, as did the hostility of the Hindu Maratha Empire, a loose confederacy of polities in the Deccan regions of west and central India, prone to much in-fighting. In 1789, Tipu attacked the Raja of Travancore, who was an ally of the EIC. In order to subdue Tipu, the EIC’s strategy was to play Indian powers off against one another. Charles Warre Malet was appointed British Resident at the court of Poona, where he arrived in 1785. In 1790, he formed a triple alliance with the Peshwa of Maratha and the Nizam of Hyderabad, ostensibly establishing a united front against Tipu. However, many frictions between the Peshwa and the Nizam and their wariness of British interference rendered negotiations difficult, and the alliance was at best weak from the outset. For his efforts in establishing the treaty, Malet was made baronet in 1791.

Malet originally commissioned this painting from James Wales, Malet’s father-in-law, who had been present in Poona at the time. Malet’s aim was to commemorate his own role in the treaty and the ultimate defeat of Tipu Sultan. When Wales died from fever in 1795, Malet asked Daniell to take over his work. The painting is partially based on Wales’s sketches, which were themselves in part based on Wales’s own portraits of the Peshwa’s court that he made in 1792, and partly on preparatory material obtained from the Indian artist Gangaram Chintaman Tambat and an EIC soldier, Robert Mabon. Although they had worked and travelled in India during the 1780s and 1790s, Thomas Daniell and his nephew and assistant William Daniell had returned to England by 1794. Back in England, Thomas Daniell took over the commission for this painting in 1795, some years after the event depicted. The Peshwa died in 1795 and a struggle for succession ensued in Poona. In 1799 Tipu Sultan was defeated and killed. In his place, the British arranged for the restoration of the former Wadiyar dynasty. The treaty between the Peshwa and Malet had ultimately proved shaky, with the Peshwa overall failing to comply. Malet seems to have commissioned this painting in order to reassert an impression of his own supposed importance in the conflict.

At the time of the commission, Daniell was also working on a heavily illustrated publication entitled Oriental Scenery (published in series between 1795 and 1808). This included depictions of Indian sites based on drawings made by himself and William Daniell over the course of some years spent in India, as well as some drawings by Wales of the cave temples at Ellora. The painting of Malet, which is Daniell’s only monumental historical work, may have been painted over one already sketched by Wales (Smith, Brown and Jacobi 2015, p.98). Wales was more accustomed to producing large-scale oil paintings: his portrait of the Peshwa and his ministers is even larger than this painting (Madhu Rao Narayan, the Maratha Peshwa with Nana Fadnavis and Attendants 1792, Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, London).

The ornamental and architectural details in Daniell’s painting are probably partly fanciful, presenting an exoticised, Orientalist depiction of the scene. This reflects the fashion for East and South Asian artistic subjects and commodities in Britain, and in Europe more widely, during this period, which is also in evidence in the subjects depicted in Daniell’s Oriental Scenery. Orientalist paintings often present a generalised and idealised view of their subjects, and conflate motifs, styles and subjects from various parts of the Asian continent into a Eurocentric amalgamation of the ‘exotic’.

The painting was first displayed to the public at the Royal Academy in London in 1805. It was later praised by Captain Edward Moor, a British army officer who had visited Poona in the 1790s, for being ‘unrivalled perhaps in Oriental grouping, characters and costume’ (Edward Moor, The Hindu Pantheon, London 1810, p.174). An 1807 mezzotint print after the painting, engraved by Charles Turner (see, for instance, A Representation of the Delivery of the Ratified Treaty of 1790 by Sir Charles Warre Malet, Royal Collection Trust, UK, RCIN 813635), included a subtitle describing it as a ‘faithful representation of an important political event in the annals of the British Empire in the East’, despite the fact that it was painted several years after the fact and is heavily based on second-hand information and imaginative embellishment. The praise with which the artwork was met speaks to the high value placed on an Orientalist aesthetic that romanticised and objectified Asian religious and cultural iconography as little more than a picturesque backdrop for British Imperial advancement, or as reducible to attractive commodities considered ripe for the taking.

Further reading
Natasha Eaton, ‘Daniell, Thomas (1749–1840), Landscape Painter and Printmaker’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, revised 2007.
Alison Smith, David Blayney Brown and Carol Jacobi (eds.), Artist and Empire: Facing Britain’s Imperial Past, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 2015, pp.98–9.

Caroline Anjali Ritchie
March 2022

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Display caption

Malet, of the East India Company, presents a scroll to the Peshwa Madhavrao II, formalising an alliance against another Indian ruler, Tipu Sultan of Mysore. The painting was commissioned by Malet to commemorate his role in the treaty and the ultimate defeat of Tipu Sultan.

Daniell completed this work after the death in 1795 of James Wales, the Scottish artist who received the original commission from Malet. Daniell painted it in England, but had travelled extensively in India. His delight in Indian subjects is evident in the statues of Ganesh and Vishnu, the painted frieze, costumes and architecture.

Gallery label, October 2013

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

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